Standards Matter: Taking Action Toward Equity Through Professional Learning
Updated: Jun 12
We can, whenever and wherever we choose, successfully teach all children whose schooling is of interest to us. We already know more than we need to do that. Whether or not we do it must finally depend on how we feel about the fact that we haven't so far."
~ Ronald Edmonds, Learning for All, 1997
Did you notice the date of the quote above? We have been talking about equity and attempting to achieve equity in our schools for many decades. Equity leader Elena Aguilar says “educational equity means there is no predictability of success or failure that correlates with any social or cultural factor – a child’s educational experiences or outcomes are not predictable because of their race, ethnicity, linguistic background, economic class, religion, gender, sexual orientation, physical and cognitive ability, or any other socio-political identity marker” (2020, p. 6). We are not there yet.
Rather than simply admiring the problem of inequity in our schools, Learning Forward is taking active responsibility for improving our education system’s ability to effectively serve all learners with the highly anticipated redesign of the Standards for Professional Learning. The introduction to the Standards document states:
Learning Forward seeks transformation through Standards for Professional Learning. This is accomplished when schools, systems, and organizations leverage standards to become environments in which educators and students alike have equitable access to learning that responds to the demands of an ever-changing world. (2022, p. 7)
A Pathway to Excellence and Equity
The Standards for Professional Learning “describe the conditions, content, and processes for professional learning that leads to high-quality leading, teaching, and learning for students and educators” (p. 9). Learning Forward considers equity to be both an outcome and a characteristic of high-quality professional learning. The Standards document states, “Equity in professional learning systems happens when educators attend to its presence in the conditions for professional learning, the processes of professional learning, and the content of professional learning” (p. 8).
Learning Forward recognizes that educator learning is key to building education systems that allow every child to thrive. For this reason, “an explicit emphasis on equity in, for, and through professional learning is woven throughout Standards for Professional Learning” (p. 8).
Understanding the Standards and their Focus on Equity
According to the Standards document, “Understanding current Standards for Professional Learning is the first step in establishing high-quality professional learning systems to achieve equity for all learners” (p. 12). This post provides a concise overview of the three Standards for Professional Learning that focus specifically on equity and offers a selection of professional learning activities to support understanding of these standards.
The Standards for Professional Learning include eleven individual standards organized into three categories. Each of these categories includes a standard specifically focused on equity. The Standards document states “The Equity Foundations standard addresses the learning context, the Equity Drivers standard outlines how learning processes contribute to equity outcomes, and the Equity Practices standard addresses the specific learning content essential to building educator capacity for equity. The three equity standards serve as guideposts for all learning” (p. 57).
Read through the equity-focused standards and their core constructs below. Consider the significance of these standards for your role as an educator responsible for promoting equity in educational settings.
Professional Learning Activities to Build Understanding of the Equity-Focused Standards
Below is a selection of professional learning activities designed to promote understanding of the three equity-focused Standards for Professional Learning. As you engage in these activities or use them in support of other educators, you’ll want to access the Standards online. You can also purchase a print copy of the Standards for Professional Learning from the Learning Forward Bookstore.
Activities to Build Personal Understanding of the Equity-Focused Standards
1. Review the summary chart of the equity-focused Standards for Professional Learning above. What is one specific way you can “live” each of these standards? Share and discuss your ideas with several colleagues.
2. Which of these three standards would you like to learn more about? Set aside 10 minutes in the next two days to read more about the standard you chose. Identify a specific action you will take as a result of your learning.
3. After reading through one of the equity standards, identify a single sentence that feels especially important to you. Write or paraphrase this sentence and post it in a location where you will reread it frequently. Continue to think about this idea and how it can help you to be more effective in your role. At the end of a week, share your learning and your plans for next steps with a critical friend.
4. Use the Equity Practices Standard to design a personal learning plan to strengthen your equity practices across the upcoming school year. The Personal Learning Plan for Strengthening Equity Practices tool below offers a way to get started.
5. According to the Equity Practices Standard, “Educators at all levels have responsibility and agency to support their colleagues in developing, improving, and practicing equity strategies and in their own development and use of new practices with students." (p. 18) Identify three ways you can support your colleagues in developing, improving, and practicing equity strategies this school year.
6. According to the Equity Drivers standard, “Educators in all roles have responsibility for making the processes of professional learning equitable, which contributes to developing equitable systems and disrupting inequitable patterns and practices for all learners, whether student or educator." (p. 34) As you participate in professional learning this summer and in the fall, how will you take personal responsibility for helping to make the processes of professional learning equitable?
7. According to the Equity Drivers standard, “Educators engage in conversations grounded in a culture of open and respectful dialogue that encourages individual and collective reflection. They implement and model norms that encourage educators to reflect on how their own privilege, race, and class might be impacting their mindsets, practices, and expectations of themselves and each other." (p. 35) Think about a meeting or professional learning session that you will facilitate in the near future. What norms might you suggest to the group to help group members engage in open and respectful dialogue and reflect on their interactions with an equity lens?
8. According to the Equity Drivers standard, “Educators intentionally build their capacity to contribute to an equitable culture, working to identify inequities and honor all voices to broaden the conversation. They identify instances where a single voice or view dominates the dialogue and take action to change that pattern." (p. 35-36)
9. Think about a professional learning or collaborative setting where a single voice or view sometimes dominates the dialogue. Why is this issue important to address? What are some ways you might take action to change this pattern?
Educators at all levels have responsibility and agency to support their colleagues in developing, improving, and practicing equity strategies and in their own development and use of new practices with students. (Learning Forward Standards for Professional Learning, 2022)
Educators intentionally build their capacity to contribute to an equitable culture, working to identify inequities and honor all voices to broaden the conversation. They identify instances where a single voice or view dominates the dialogue and take action to change that pattern.
(Learning Forward Standards for Professional Learning, 2022)
Activities to Build Others’ Understanding of the Equity-Focused Standards
1. In a faculty or team meeting, jigsaw the three equity-focused standards or the three core constructs for one of these standards. After sharing and discussing your learning, create a list of commitment statements that all team members agree to.
2. After studying the equity standards, identify one kind of data that could be used to assess your team’s current level of implementation of this standard and to monitor progress as you and your team work to strengthen your professional learning and instructional programs. For instance, you might…
Observe a team meeting and make note of language that acknowledges students’ cultural wealth and focuses on students’ strengths rather than their deficits
Review professional learning agendas or coaching plans for references to equity practices and discussion of equity-related issues.
Survey teachers, students, and parents to measure the level of trust that currently exists among and between stakeholders
Review student journals for language that reflects agency
Observe classroom discussions and note student participation (tally by race, gender, ELL status, etc.)
After gathering the identified data, discuss its significance and decide on your team’s next steps.
3. The Equity Practices Standard description begins with an explanation of what it means for an educator to achieve this standard.
Educators engage in professional learning that helps them create high-quality learning experiences for all students, honoring all aspects of identity students bring to the school. Educators build capacity to serve the whole child, deepening their understanding of who their students are and how their life experiences and identities impact what they need at school. Educators learn to recognize each student’s strengths and personalize learning to maximize impact on a range of student outcomes. (p. 18)
Imagine a classroom where this standard is fully present. What would you see? What would you hear? Create a bulleted list of examples of how this standard might come to life in a classroom.
4. According to the Equity Drivers standard, “educators create more equitable learning environments when they engage in professional learning that builds knowledge about how to demonstrate understanding and affirm each person’s identity and contribution and supports reflection about how learner’s backgrounds and experiences impact teaching, learning, and culture." (p. 34)
What does this type of professional learning look like? What does it sound like? Operationalize this idea by listing specific examples.
How will you use the Standards for Professional Learning to Promote Equity?
According to the Standards document,
How educators use Standards for Professional Learning depends often on their roles and contexts in which they work. All educators have a responsibility to understand and apply knowledge of standards to their own learning, and that of their peers. Educators such as system/central office leaders, principals, instructional coaches, and external or technical assistance providers will explore multiple uses of using standards as they plan, implement, evaluate, and provide resources for professional learning. (p. 76)
The Standards for Professional Learning can help all educators to move beyond just talking about equity into strategic action to achieve equitable learning outcomes for all students and teachers.
Aguilar, Elena. (2020). Coaching for equity: conversations that change practice. Hoboken, NJ: Jossey-Bass.
Learning Forward. (2002). Standards for professional learning. Oxford, OH: Learning Forward.
Lezotte, Lawrence W. (1997). Learning for all. Effective Schools Products.
Sue Chapman is a professional learning consultant and author of MathVentures: 33 Teacher-Coach Investigations to Grow Students as Mathematicians. Learn more about her at SueChapmanLearning.com and connect with her on Twitter at @SueChapmanLearn.